Contemporary Coffee Table Circa 1980

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Contemporary Coffee Table Circa 1980

Postby John » Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:36 pm

Back when my living depended upon making furniture for others, I was asked several times if I would make a coffee table to which I always said no. Didn't drink coffee at the time.

One day while flying into Portland at night, I noticed the most interesting patterns created by the landing lights at the airport and they became the inspiration for this piece.

My slides are old and are getting moldy but you can see what a dramatic effect a few cuts can make.

The fact that this is a functional table and a sculpture makes it a fun piece. The functional part of the table flows down and away from the sculpture--like a plane landing--of course only I would know this.

I have two regrets on this piece; one, I would make the "V" cuts in the stretcher for more whimsy/continuity and two, I wish I would have kept one. I made six of these and sold them in 1980 for $2500 ea. Don't think I made a dime on them.

--John Economaki



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Postby PFranks » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:30 pm

Beautiful table, John. Do you drink coffee now?

How did you do the cuts in the table top? They're very beautifully done. I'd use a router, but I'm guessing that you didn't...
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Postby John » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:45 pm

The question was asked on my blog how I made the step in the slab top.

Basically this is a giant snipe. Here are the steps;

The top is made of 4 or 5 pieces of 8/4 cherry. The portion of each slab that was to become the sculpture side of the table had a thin 1/8" thick piece of wood glued to the top with paper between the two pieces (similar to how you separate a bowl from the faceplate screw block).

I had (still do and it is for SALE!) a 24" Newman Whitney planer with a 5HP direct drive cutter head--this is important. The table on this beast weighs 600 lbs and was hand adjusted up and down with a hand wheel.

I yanked the table, and put in drive system so I would not trash my back using this tool. It works really well.

So I got the bright idea (maybe) of hogging out material 1/4" at a time, and then on queue, stopping the cutter head rotation while simultaneously lowering the table using the power feed--the potential for a massive kickback forced me to wear double underwear when I first tried this crazy maneuver-- I have found no way to stop this cutterhead--it is an incredible piece of engineering and direct drive is so efficient--so stopping the power was paramount to minimizing the kickback potential should it have occurred. But it didn't.

So basically I sniped each board big time, removed the extra sacrificial material by prying it off (the extra material glued to the top is what chipped and blew out along the exiting edge of the cutterhead) and then running the paper face of each board back through the planer normally to remove the paper and glue.

The snipes were aligned with dowels and the boards glued together perfectly flush). The snipes were cleaned up with a scraper (similar to a scooped chair seat).

The "V" grooves were made with a Skil worm drive saw with the blade tilted to 45 degrees running against a guide. The cut surfaces were cleaned up with a shoulder plane--and this is where I learned how to HATE the ergonomics of European designed shoulder planes--our CT-14 Shoulder Plane is a direct response to this piece--albeit 30 years or so later.

The grain of the top pieces were all selected so I would minimize tear-out and it work great.

I think what is important about this project is that it really drove me to find the solution--had I not had the Newman Whitney planer, I would have figured out how to do this on a jointer. The form demanded a solution.

I was also worried about cutting through the dovetails (an important part of the piece) and finding major gaposis but it worked well every time.

So from a design perspective, the lesson here is to design first and figure out how to do it later--and this is the opposite approach for most beginners.

--John
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Postby John » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:50 pm

The problem using a router in sugary woods like cherry and maple is that the burns can be so deep you are hosed. These are major "V" cuts and each face is over an inch in width--so the router was too risky for me.

Hope this helps.

-John

PS: At least one cup per day for me.
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Postby PFranks » Thu Jul 23, 2009 8:24 am

I think I get it - thanks for the explanation. Couldn't you have done it the "Maloof" way, and just used a bandsaw to cut the "snipe" in each piece before gluing them up? Then smooth out any irregularities with either power tools (sanders, etc.) or hand tools (spokeshaves and scrapers)? Or both?

Sounds like the Festool TS55 and guide rail would have been perfect for the V cuts on the top.

Nice job! Do you ever get to see whether the clients still enjoy your tables?
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Postby PFranks » Thu Jul 23, 2009 9:31 am

But back to design issues. I can see that you spend a lot of time thinking about how light plays off the different angles, textures and surfaces of your pieces. I know I'm asking a lot, but are there any general suggestions you can make concerning that? I love the way Maloof played with "hard lines", and his skill at making them appear and disappear was unparalleled. I'd love to work more with shadow lines and surfaces in my work, but I'm usually so focused on getting something built that I don't take the time to experiment.
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Postby John » Thu Jul 23, 2009 9:49 am

Peter-

You answered your own question with the last sentence in your post--in other words, your words, you let the cart get before the horse.

Here is one area where most avocational woodworkers can use help.

It is important to recognize that in our country, most avocational woodworkers are self-taught and a big part of their learning material is from magazines/books/internet. Unfortunately because woodworking is labor intensive, the bulk of interest is in techniques and tools (the tool part we like...). But technique is only important if there is a form driving the need.

Design first, figure out how to build later. Don't build without a design. NEVER hope for serendipity in the middle of piece.

-John
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Postby PFranks » Thu Jul 23, 2009 11:20 am

Good thoughts, John. My tendency is to do hand's-on experimentation. I have sketch books full of variations on a theme, but when push comes to shove, there's nothing like actually building a piece and see how it looks in real life. I think that's the advantage that professionals have over us hobbyists: they get to get rid of their experiments while they hone their craft. I have to keep mine! I was fortunate to tour Sam Maloof's shop and houses a month or so before he passed away, and loved to see the experimentation in his pieces. You could see the evolution of the joinery and the shaping. Wonderful!

So - anyone want to buy some nice cherry furniture, so that I can make some more? 8)
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